Students Confront Clinical Despair

"I called it my existential crisis," said a sophomore English concentrator, remembering the fall of last year. "Everything felt completely empty. I had no motivation to do anything, even to move. I just wanted to stay in my bed and lie there. When I tried visualizing things it was just dark and I was this little thing in the middle. There was no point to anything."

Unbeknownst to her, this Harvard student was suffering from clinical depression. "I just never thought of myself as a depressed person," she says.

And it was not until this fall that she decided to seek help. "It was kind of a relief to have it diagnosed as a real illness instead of something I was struggling with," she says.

She is not alone.

According to Dr. Randolph Catlin, head of the Mental Health Service at University Health Services (UHS),12 to 15 percent of undergraduates are seen by mental health services at least once during their college careers.


Of these, Catlin says it is fair to say that one third, or about 300 under-graduates at Harvard, have some form of depression.

At MIT, the story is the same. Dr. Peter Reich '52, chief of psychiatry at the MIT medical department, says about eight percent of MIT under-graduates are seen each year for mental health concerns. "In at least one half of the students, depression is an important component of their presentation or complaint," he says.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 25 percent of all women and 10 percent of all men will suffer from at least one episode of depression at some point in their lives.

Yet even these figures may underestimate theprevalence of depression, as the disorder isfrequently undiagnosed or even misdiagnosed.

Many depressed students do not seek help atUniversity Health Services. And since depressionmay occur with symptoms other than sadness, suchas a loss of vitality and energy, people may noteven realize that they are suffering fromdepression.

Professor of Psychology Jill M. Hooley saysunderdiagnosis is a real concern, since at least80 percent of all patients suffering from clinicaldepression are responsive to treatment.

"Depression awareness is something that's notvery high in most of the population," says Dr.Joseph J. Schildkraut '55, a professor ofpsychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "Oftenpeople will write this off saying, 'I've been toobusy at work,' or, 'I just got over the flu."

The English concentrator says she experiencedsymptoms of depression for about a year beforeacademic concerns prompted her to seek help at theBureau of Study Counsel.

But when the focus of the counselling suddenlyshifted to personal issues, the student decided tostop therapy.

"I guess I started to get really really scared,afraid to get into anything personal," she says."I didn't want to open things up and I though Icould just go on and live a normal life."

According to Schildkraut, most people sufferingfrom depression wait until the situation becomesunbearable before seeking help.